A few years ago, a small university invited me on an MLA interview for a tenure-track assistant professor position teaching publishing and creative writing. The hiring committee assumed I would be attending the conference and so told me when and where to be. I had no travel funding for the interview, but it was the only interview I was offered that year. I worried: was one interview enough to justify the expense? But what other options did I have? So I ponied up the money from my savings account and flew for the day to icy Chicago. Rather than spend the extra money and attend the conference, I wandered the morning away at the surgical museum on the waterfront before the afternoon interview. When I arrived at the hotel room, the all-male committee of three met me with practiced hellos and gestured that I sit in a chair at the foot of the bed while the three of them clustered together on the sofa and another chair. Later, a friend confided that she once had an MLA interview in which the committee had her sit on the bed before several men in chairs; the room was so small that her knees were nearly touching one of theirs. My interviewers turned to one another, arms crossed, so that they signaled that they were not ready to begin the interview. They began talking—gossiping?—to one another about something socially esoteric to me: a conversation they had had with a colleague or friend, an allusion to their supper the night before. I sat in my chair, uncomfortably aware that I was not a part of the conversation and that neither my inclusion nor exclusion crossed their minds. Eventually, after a minute or two, I offered that I was ready to begin whenever they were. One of the committee members seemed startled by my verbal nudge, but he greeted the idea warmly enough. Their delivery of the questions seemed largely perfunctory, which caused me to believe that my interview was merely a formality. Had they already found someone they wanted to hire? Did they know before traveling to MLA? I left the interview feeling defeated, as if I had been on exhibition like a Pollock in front of a public who passed by muttering, “Well, I could do that.”
Still, I had to maintain hope. It was my only in-person interview that season, and my visiting position would run out by the end of the semester. I’d had a tough year balancing my full teaching load with thirty or more job applications, my creative work, and a stint of medical issues and complications, all of which I was trying to resolve before my visiting position’s health insurance ran out. I also felt some urgency in getting my second book finished. Writers, poets especially, with only an MFA and one book seemed to not get any bites. At the end of the season, I tallied the Who Got What list on the Creative Writing Academic Jobs Wiki and saw that only one of the tenure-track poetry positions was taken by someone who didn’t have a Ph.D. It was that job season that caused me to consider applying to creative writing Ph.Ds as well as programs in other disciplines. I didn’t hear back from the job I interviewed for at MLA for weeks, months even, until I finally queried, assuming that they had offered the position to someone else. I received an email back that said that the line had been cancelled and that the university would not be hiring anyone.